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Baseball: A season for the record books

Moments after the 2014 season came to an end on the early evening of June 3 for the Laguna Beach High baseball team, Coach Mike Bair said it would take him a day or two to encapsulate his thoughts regarding the spectacular year his team had just turned in.

Well, it had been nearly a week since Laguna's run was halted in the semifinal round of the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs, a 4-3, nine-inning loss at Torrance that ended the season, and Bair had had time to reflect on a season full of superlatives for his Breakers.

The 2014 season, one that went beyond victories and only a few losses, was one, once again, for the Laguna record books.

"A school record-tying 27-3 record, a league title, and a semifinal CIF playoff game, only tells part of this team's story," Bair said. "They bonded with each other, laughed, fought like brothers at times, competed and over time created this attitude of loving to win and hating to lose.

"They played strong under pressure and were fearless at all times. They fought for one another. I could not be more proud of this team and what they accomplished, especially our five seniors who have left a major impact on this program."

Coming off a 26-3 record-setting season in 2013 and returning several key players from that team, Laguna figured to once again offer a strong, but young, squad.

The Breakers won their first four games of the season, all coming in the Newport Elks Tournament. In their final game of the event, they went to Westminster where, after committing a few errors and giving up a few unearned runs, suffered their first loss, a 4-3 decision to the Lions in mid-March.

Bair said the Westminster game was a key point in the season for his team.

"We did not play bad but there was no urgency and the team knew it and was upset and never played like that again," he said.

The Breakers didn't. They responded to the setback at Westminster by forging an eight-game win streak and didn't lose again in more than three weeks. Their second loss, coming at the hands of Santa Fe Springs St. Paul, 4-2, at the Anaheim Lions Tournament April 2, would be their final loss of the regular season."

His team was winning innings, and Bair said that was a key to the Breakers' success.

"All season long if a team scored on us, we always punched back," he said. "We would exhaust teams with base runners each inning because we had a mind set to compete like each inning was a new game. This team was relentless and always fought and really did believe they could beat anyone.

"When [CIF] playoffs started, you could feel the team believed in one another at a whole new level. They were focused on winning and it was a great feeling as a coach to see your players compete for each other and pick each other up when they needed it. It was special to be a part of."

Before Laguna could turn its attention to the postseason, the Breakers first had to navigate through a 15-game Orange Coast League schedule. The defending league champions found nothing but clear sailing in league play. The Breakers won all 15 league games for the second straight year, and third time in the last four years.

Laguna headed into the CIF Southern Section playoffs with a No. 7 ranking in Division 4, riding a 12-game win streak that soon grew to 15 games following postseason shutout wins over Ojai Nordhoff and 10th-ranked Alhambra, and a 5-3 quarterfinal win at second-ranked La Habra Sonora. The three wins put a Laguna team into the playoff semifinals for the first time since 1957.

The Breakers' final record of 27-3 tied the school record for wins in a season (76 seasons of baseball) which first was set three years ago by the 2011 team that also finished 27-3 under then-Coach Jeff Sears.

Bair, in his third year, has won 71 games — the most by any Laguna baseball coach, and the 2014 senior class of players, pitcher/outfielder Grant Wilhelm, first baseman Steven Harrison, shortstop/pitcher Preston GrandPre, infielder Garrett Burk, and outfielder/infielder Richie Nunis, the 2014 MVP of the Orange Coast League, exit the program having been part of several record-setting seasons.

"These five seniors have left a major impact on our younger players and the program, as a whole," Bair said. "They were tough, competitive, gritty, fun, and exciting. They taught our younger guys that it is not OK to play a game without a focused mind and a full heart."

Wilhelm, who won a school single-season record 13 games his senior year and posted a mark of 13-1, said after the Torrance game that his final season as a Breaker was his best.

"This definitely was my favorite year of high school," he said. "I was delightfully shocked at how well we did. Everyone felt that last year [2013] would be our year, but this group just played so well and had a great time doing it. I wish I could do it again."

Despite losing five senior starters, Bair has another formidable group of returnees coming back in 2015 that will attempt to keep the program at the top. He also will draw from a junior varsity team, coached by Eric Peruzzi, that won the Orange Coast League title for a seventh-straight year.

"We will have four seniors next year which makes us a fairly young team again," Bair said. "We had two freshman (Dante Faicchio, Ashton Goddard) on the varsity team this year who got some great experience and our sophomores will be ready to make larger contributions this coming season.

"We are losing some pop in our bats and some power on the mound, but our coaching staff is confident we will be able to develop these players and prepare them to play at a high level again next season."

During the 2014 season, the Breakers finished at or near the top in several team categories for a single-season: first in plate appearances (1,086), at-bats (911), runs scored (288), batting average (.387), slugging percentage (.546), hits (353), doubles (92), total bases (498), on-base percentage (.470), and stolen bases (107); second in runs batted in (224), base on balls (118) and batters hit by pitch (38); tied for third in triples (seven), and tied for fourth in home runs (13).

Torrance, which defeated Laguna in the Division 4 semifinals, went on to win the CIF Southern Section Division 4 championship Saturday. The Tartans routed rival South Torrance, 11-0, at UC Riverside, for their first Southern Section title in baseball.

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